The Tower, the Rules, and the Hidden Gift of Losing It All

The gifts that may be concealed in disasters.

It can be hard to find anything positive to say about The Tower card in the Tarot.  It shows a tower being struck by a lightning bolt and the inhabitants of the tower plunging to their death and destruction.  When you draw the card in a reading, it symbolizes total disaster, either on a physical or a psychological level.  Everything that you believed in and held dear is being blasted into debris and smoke.  It gives any Tarot reader a real case of the heebie-jeebies.

Most people don’t experience that kind of total destruction.  That’s not to say that they don’t have terrible or traumatic experiences sometimes.  Usually, though, most of their world remains intact.  A person’s partner may leave, but she still has her children.  Or perhaps she’s fired from her job, but she still has a sizable savings account.  Or her house burns down, but it was fully insured.  Yes, we all experience disasters of greater or lesser magnitude, but it’s rare to have everything fall apart at once, to be left with nothing but a shell of our life.

When that happens, we lose our sense of being in the world, our sense of living in a sane, orderly, safe universe where we fit in and life is predictable.  It’s literally like being in a psychological and spiritual earthquake, where previously solid ground has shaken and shifted and split apart and left you standing in ruins.

In his book The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology), R.D. Laing refers to what he calls, “ontological insecurity.”  Ontology is the philosophy of being, of studying how we, as living beings, fit into and exist in our world.  Ontological insecurity, then, is the pervading sense of not fitting into the world, of not belonging.

We can see a mild example of that when someone travels overseas.  Every society has unwritten rules that the citizens just take for granted.  There are macro-cultural rules like the fact that in America we drive on the right hand side of the road and we mostly speak English.  There are also micro-cultural rules like the fact that people who live in the Southern part of the United States make eye contact and smile as they pass strangers on the street and people in New England don’t.  A woman on the East Coast may wear skirts and heels to work every day while a woman in California wears jeans and a blouse.

Whatever the rules are for that particular society, they are so comfortable and so well known by the people who live there that they operate on an almost unconscious basis.  People take the underlying rules for granted and because of that they fit in.  They know their place in the world and how to behave in it.  That’s ontological security.

If you were to take one of those people, though, and parachute them into Thailand or Indonesia or India, their ontological security would vanish.  Suddenly they’re in a place where the language sounds like gibberish, people drive on the wrong side of the street, buildings aren’t, “right,”, bathrooms aren’t right, the beds are weird, and the money makes no sense.  

In other words, they don’t know the rules.

There’s very much the same sense of angst when your whole life blows up in your face.  When you lose your life partner AND your home AND your job AND your family walks away from you.  Not only are our lives shattered, but, even worse, we’re left with a sense that the world just doesn’t make sense anymore, that nothing is safe and orderly and predictable, and that no one is trustworthy.

In other words, we feel like we don’t know the rules anymore.

And that’s ontological insecurity.

R.D. Laing was working primarily with severe schizophrenics and, unfortunately, many of them never come back from whatever hell-scape they happen to be living in.  With those who did come back, however, he likened their illness to a shamanic journey, a deep, spiritual pilgrimage to strange dimensions where our ordinary sense of reality, our, “rules,” of behavior simply don’t exist. 

Having the underlying fabric of your life destroyed can feel very much like that sort of a descent into madness.  Unfortunately, when we’re faced with total disaster, most of us can’t stand to live in that space for very long.  It’s too threatening, too scary, too overwhelming to face the fact that our lives are built on a very thin veneer of rules and normality which really have no substance to them.  And so we begin to reconstruct our lives as rapidly as possible using the same template that failed us in the first place.  

Your wife died?  No problem – get remarried.

You lost your shitty job? No problem – get another shitty job.

Your family deserted you?  No problem – join a social club or AA or a church and make a synthetic family.

We desperately want to get back to our sense of safety but, in doing so, we lose the gift of the loss, the gift of the shamanic journey into darkness.  And make no mistake, losing everything can be a magical gift because it can make us realize that we never really had it to begin with.

When we realize that everything we treasure can vanish, then we can begin to reconstruct our lives with things that are real and won’t disappear in the next disaster.  Love.  Compassion.  Inner wisdom.  Peace.  Tranquility.  But first we have to relinquish the safety of our, “rules,” and our so-called normal lives.  As Pema Chodron said in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times/p>

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”

The gift of The Tower is to be fully alive and fully awake, to live without our previous illusions.  If we choose to take the gift.

9/11 and The Lightning Struck Tower

As I’m writing this it’s the 18th anniversary of the planes hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11.  There are so many images of horror and death from that day that it’s difficult to ever really process them.

A flaming, collapsing Tower is truly a human archetype, as The Tower card shows.  The image is deeply seared into the human unconscious and we can find examples of it in numerous cultures across the world.

The common theme in all of the stories is the hubris of humanity, building massive towers to reach the gods or to be equal to the gods or to confront the gods.

 They’d get to a certain height and the gods would blast the towers into rubble to punish them for their arrogance.

In the case of 9/11 we could say that the hubris didn’t involve people trying to confront the gods so much as people trying to BE the gods.  We can draw a direct line between organized religion and the Twin Towers and that SHOULD be the most important lesson here.

Remember:  Osama Bin Laden was a very, very religious man who stopped and prayed several times a day.  He orchestrated the attacks on the Twin Towers because he believed that god told him to incinerate thousands of human beings.

Which is just fucking nuts.

On the other side of the fence, we see Americans recoiling in disgust when Central American immigrant children are imprisoned in camps at our borders.  We forget that Palestinian families have been living in horrible camps for generations.

That’s happening because the ultra-right party in Israel believes that centuries ago a Thunder God named Yahweh told the Jews that the land the Palestinians owned actually belonged to the Jews so it’s okay to steal it.

Which is just fucking nuts.  

BUT . . . the Israeli land grab is mostly supported by the United States because American Christian evangelical voters believe that Armageddon will happen in the Middle East when the Jews and the Muslims go to war and then all of the Christians will be whisked up to heaven where they’ll eat pancakes with Jesus forever.  Amen. So, anything that causes troubles between the Muslims and the Jews is a GOOD thing for the Christians because . . . um . . . it will cause the end of the world.

Which is just fucking nuts.  

We really are reaching a point of critical mass in the world today, a point where violent religiosity in all its forms has to be rejected as psychotic behavior.  We’re distracted by the outer shapes of the various religions but it’s the same hateful fundamentalism whether it’s hiding under an Imam’s robe or a preacher’s suit.

It almost always involves a belief that their religion – and their religion alone – is the true word of god.  A belief that it’s somehow okay to murder, torture, rape, and drop bombs on innocent children if you’re doing it in the name of your god.  It almost always involves a hatred of art and a war on women and female sexuality.

And it’s time to say, “Enough.”  The rest of us actually live in the towers that these fanatics are blowing up.  The rest of us are the innocent civilians caught in the middle of their violent, psychotic fantasies.

Enough.

Abuse Cards in the Tarot

One of the most frequent reasons for people to consult a Tarot reader is relationships, specifically romantic relationships.  This includes the full gamut of topics from, “Does Bobby like me?” to, “Is my marriage worth saving?”

You may find that a prominent subcategory of that topic is physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships.  People who are in abusive relationships are frequently desperate for advice and guidance.

You may also find – as any cop, social worker, or emergency department nurse can tell you – that the questioner may not even be willing to admit that he or she is in an abusive relationship.  They may be deeply ashamed of it. They may have been victims for so long that they’re afraid to reveal the truth, afraid that talking about it will only bring more abuse down on their heads.

It can be very puzzling to a reader.  You’re looking at a reading that indicates that something is very, very wrong in the questioners life and, yet, they assure you that everything’s fine.  There are, however, a few cards that can tip you to what’s actually happening.

NINE OF WANDS


The picture kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  This card may well indicate an abusive relationship though at this point – given that this is a Wands card and, thus, ideas card – the abuse is probably more verbal than physical.  A couple living in a constant state of verbal warfare with nasty, wounding arguments.

EIGHT OF CUPS

A card of stealing away in the night, this may indicate someone who is literally fleeing from a really bad relationship.  This can be a relationship that is SO bad that the questioner is leaving town to get away from his or her partner.

FIVE OF SWORDS

This is a card of really ugly power games and can indicate a person who is a serious sadist.  Deep wounds are being inflicted here and they may be actual physical wounds as well as emotional wounds.

SIX OF SWORDS

This appears to be a fairly placid card on its’ surface but there are undertones that can indicate abuse. As I said in the original definition from my book, “Just the Tarot,” this is a card of leaving troubles behind and moving toward better times.  A journey from rough waters to waters that are placid and calm. There is a definite element of escape, of fleeing in this card.

There is also an element of hiding and of turning your power over to someone else and asking them to guide you to safety.  The woman and child are cloaked and bent over, as if to conceal their identities.

I have seen this card frequently in the context of an abused wife or girl-friend fleeing to a women’s shelter or finally, finally calling the cops to stop the abuse.  

SEVEN OF SWORDS

This card doesn’t so much indicate physical abuse but may point toward a form of emotional abuse.  The questioner may be involved with someone who is stealing his or her power in a relationship, belittling them, and grinding down their sense of self-worth on a daily basis.

EIGHT OF SWORDS

Again, the picture pretty much speaks for itself.  A person who is literally being held prisoner in a terrible relationship.  The blindfold can indicate a high level of denial on his or her part, refusing to even acknowledge, much less deal with, the fact that they’re in deep shit.

TEN OF SWORDS

This may well be the scariest of the abuse cards.  It’s the end of the power cycle and the subject lies dead on the battlefield stuck full of the swords that he or she tried to wield.  A reminder that abusive relationships can have horrible endings.

NINE OF PENTACLES

I’m including this card in the post, not because it shows overt physical or emotional abuse, but because it may show a certain form of emotional or financial bondage in a relationship.  The woman in the card is to all appearances happy, content, and surrounded by wealth. One of the key elements of the card, though, is the blindfolded hawk. This card may indicate a person who has – perhaps willingly – surrendered his or her freedom for financial security.  There can be a great deal of inequity and inequality of power in a relationship like that and that can certainly lead to abuse.

THE DEVIL – UPRIGHT OR REVERSED

The Devil can, of course, indicate a whole slew of other things besides relationship abuse but it’s almost always there when abuse is present.  You have to be a wee bit cautious in automatically assuming that, though, because human sexuality covers a whole spectrum of behaviors. I have never personally understood it but there ARE people who enjoy giving and receiving pain as a part of their sexual experience.  If it’s mutually agreed on, it’s none of our business.

Despite that, The Devil can be a clear indicator of a relationship that has gone very, very wrong.  The man and woman are chained but the chains are obviously loose enough to be slipped off if they chose to do so.  There is an element of voluntarily sinking into a terrible, poisonous relationship and elevating the very worst of human nature into a so-called, “relationship.”  The abuse here can be emotional, physical and spiritual.

THE TOWER

The Tower can show abuse but it’s probably just happened.  The Tower is sudden calamity, a bolt from the blue, a shocking development.  Chronic abuse can go on for years. It may be shocking to others to discover it’s been going on but it’s certainly not shocking to the victims or perpetrators.  Depending upon the surrounding cards this may indicate the very start of the abuse cycle.

THE MOON

As I said in my original definition:  The Moon shows that the questioner may be involved with someone on a very primitive, unconscious level and that there may be deception on the part of the partner or, more likely, denial on the part of the questioner.  There is a lot of emotion present but it may not be of a healthy, evolved nature.

This card can show the depths of rationalization and deception involved in an abusive relationship.  Everything is murky, shadowy, and there’s no clear path out for the victim.

So those are the primary cards that may indicate an abusive relationship.  They don’t always indicate that but you’ll be able to tell a great deal by the surrounding cards.  I would also emphasize that these are by no means the only cards that can indicate abuse. Abusive relationships can be incredibly complex and so can the readings for the person being abused.

The Tower

 

Tower

A crowned tower atop a peak has been struck by lightning.  The crown on the tower has been knocked off and flames sprout from the windows.  Two people have been knocked out of the tower and are falling toward the ground.

This isn’t necessarily a horrible card to get in a reading but it can be.  If it’s effects are softened by other cards in the reading it may just show a sudden reversal of luck or the destruction of a belief system.

At its’ worst it can indicate a real calamity.  It can show a huge financial loss, for instance, or a home being lost or destroyed.  On the level of relationships it can show a complete loss of faith in the relationship or the person the questioner is involved with.  Imagine coming home and finding your husband in bed with the baby sitter. THAT kind of loss of faith.

One of the aspects here is that the loss tends to be sudden and totally unexpected.  It’s not something you can plan for, it just happens with no warning. That’s a major part of the feeling of devastation.  Like the lightning bolt it’s literally shocking.

Another aspect is that it tends to shake you to the core.  You question your beliefs, your faith, all of the things that you took for granted in what is now your former life.

Did I mention this is a bad card?

REVERSED:  The calamity has happened and the questioner is now in the recovery phase.  The question is whether he or she will find the inner strength and spiritual resources to deal with the loss and rebuild their life.

Some More Thoughts About the Tower:

Shit happens.

And that’s one of those terrible truths that can be so difficult to accept.  You can be walking merrily down lifes’ path, whistling a happy tune and admiring the sunshine when you get run over by an out of control ice cream truck.

Shit happens.  When it happens to someone we don’t like or someone who is a blatant bastard we tend to say, “Ah, HA!  He certainly got what he had coming!”

When it happens to someone who is a really good person – or even worse, to us – it tends to be more of a head scratcher.  We tend to revert back to that child-like state and ask, “Why did this happen to me? I’ve been good.”

And we do buy into that equation that the quality of your life is equal to the quality of your actions.  If you’re a good person, then good things will happen to you. If you’re a bad person then bad things will happen to you.

We buy into that despite a lot of proof to the contrary.  There are some very wealthy people who have screwed over everyone they’ve ever met.   There are many loving, kind people living in abject poverty and hunger. Philosophers and religious leaders have been trying to explain that for as long as humans have existed.

The fact is that we don’t really know why catastrophe strikes one person and not another.  We just know that it does. The only thing we know for certain is that personal disaster either builds character of it destroys it.  When your entire world has just gone up in smoke, when you’ve lost everything that you held dear, then all that’s left is what you’ve got in your own heart.  You either use the strength you’ve got inside of you or you develop inner strength in the process of recovery.

Alternatively, you can just give up.  Or become a cynic who despises life. Or cry out that there’s no justice and life isn’t fair.

Because . . . you know . . . shit happens.

 

2karma